Wilberforce Requests, Garrow Responds

At a special time in William Garrow’s career, the first few months of 1817, William Wilberforce asks a special favor of Garrow. He requests Garrow to defend John Hatchard on the charge of libel for actions he has taken as publisher of material for the African Institute. It is thought to be the last time in his long career that Garrow serves as defense counsel, the role he pioneered in the English legal system.

William Wilberforce was one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and continued throughtout his life to fight the institution of slavery. The African Institute’s materials served as a voice for the anti-slavery forces in England, and the plantation owners were fighting back. It is interesting to observe that Wilberforce wants Garrow, in his private capacity, to defend Hatchard, even though Garrow, as Attorney General and lead prosecutor for the Crown, would normally prosecute in a case of the King v. John Hatchard. Garrow chooses to assist in the defense of Hatchard.

Garrow letter to Wilberforce
Garrow letter to Wilberforce

(Images of the letter kindly provided by: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford (Shelfmark: MS. Wilberforce d. 17, fol. 266). See the letter reproduced in full on this page).

This case is of special interest to those attempting to understand the life of William Garrow. His feelings against the institution of slavery had been expressed publicly on various occasions and are again expressed at a moment in time when he is deeply engaged in prosecuting the first case enforcing the Slave Trade Act of 1807 in the English courts. Within about 2 months Garrow will give up his position as Attorney General. He is about to make his last speech in Parliament and give up his position as an MP (Member of Parliament). He is also giving up his membership and leadership in Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four inns of court. (Every barrister had to be a member of one of the inns.) Garrow is moving on to become one of the Barons of the Exchequer, a judge in one of the highest courts of the land.

On January 24, 1817 Garrow writes a letter to Wilberforce in response to the letter just received from him. It is a letter he quickly pens while sitting in the formal business of court. Viewing a photocopy of the actual letter, in his own penmanship and with his signature at the bottom, adds to an understanding of the spontaneity of the response. However, the following transcription is much easier to read than Garrow’s penmanship.

Westminster Hall

24 Jan 1817

My Dear Sir

It was impossible for me yesterday before the departure of the Post even to snatch a few minutes to say your letter was received. On the first day of Term much of the day is employed in attending at the Lord Chancellor and presiding in state to the court.

May I beg you once for all to persuade yourself that it never can be necessary for you to offer any thing in the shape of apology for writing to me – you do not employ your comprehensive mind upon subjects which are not of high importance and your manner of treating the least important of them can not fail to render them most interesting.

It appears that Wilberforce has asked Garrow’s advice concerning whether it would be appropriate for him, and also the Duke of Gloucester (the brother of King George III), to attend the trial of John Hatchard. Garrow responds.

I can say without hesitation that in whatever form, in whatever stage of proceeding the case of Mr. Hatchard on the present prosecution shall present itself in Court for public discussion – on every trial there can not be the slightest impropriety in your attending — I can and say the same thing in the same unhesitating tone with respect to the presence of your Royal President – you and I know that the presence of any number of illustrious persons however exalted their rank could not by any possibility produce any the least influence upon our proceedings – but the presence of the Members of our honorable Souvenir’s royal house in our Courts is so very unusual an occurrence that it is not impossible that the Duke of Gloucester might feel that His Highnesses presence on an occasion of the discussion of a matter connected with an Institution which has the benefit of His high patronage might be misconceived or mischievously misrepresented as intended to produce a bias or influence or to extend an undo countenance to the defendant, a person under prosecution for giving affect to a publication of the Society – You will not understand me my dear Sir as giving any thing like a decision on your question but merely as giving you with candor and without reserve the manner in which it strikes me — I have received some marks of very kind condescension from his Highness but I can not pretend I have had on any occasion honored by his confidence – others much better qualified to assist his Lordship if he should wish to consult them have been more formidably distinguished – among those I can not refer to a more unerring informant than that of Mr. Justice Park who has long been honored by the kindness of the Duke.

The 24th of January 1817 was a very complex and troubling point in English history, and in Garrow’s career. While the French Wars were now over, England was suffering from great social, economic and political upheavals. Two days before while on his way to open a new session of Parliament the Prince Regent’s carriage had been mobbed and a bullet or stone had broken the glass of his coach window, starting the great debate that led to the Gag Acts greatly restricting – temporarily – human freedoms. Garrow, as Attorney General, was very busy.

Of the merits of Mr. Hatchard’s Case I am at present quite ignorant – about a week ago while extreemely pressed by important matters I found on my table a very voluminous Brief referring to in an accompanying proposal to comment, expressing I would read them all — advise on the defence – prosecution. I heartily recalled the time when I could have ventured on the proposed employment and responsibility – at this time the thing was impossible I was constrained therefore to return the papers immediately stating my incapacity but adding that if desired I would read the papers and prepare myself to enter into the consideration of all the points in consultation with some other gentleman – These papers came from Miss Lambert & Sons and I have not heard more on the subject.

With the words “that if desired I would read the papers and prepare myself to enter into the consideration of all the points in consultation with some other gentleman” Garrow commits himself to assist in the cause.

I have read the other matters stated with so much Christian feeling and energy in your esteemed fervor with all the interest which they can not fail to excite and I should feel it a most consoling reflection, at a period when there is much to afflict and debase, that it may please the all gracious Disposer of events at prolonging our days so as your labours for the most afflicted oppressed and degraded Portion of the human race (be) crowned with triumphant and most perfect accomplishment..                     — allow me my Dear Sir                         to request you to forgive this hasty unconsidered (response) written in Court and to accept the ( expression ) of my most (untiring) esteem and respect.

Dear Sir.         Your faithful Servant

W Garrow

Wm Wilberforce Esqr

(Note: the photocopy of the original letter was obtained from the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford England and is used with the permission of the Library)

John Hatchard was charged with libel for his role in distributing a report (1816) for the African Institution describing slavery in Antigua and the Leeward Islands. The charge of libel is based on a false description in the report of activities of an unnamed Aides-de-Camp of Sir James Leith, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands. The charge of libel is also made because of a false statement attributed to the Grand Jury of the Island of Antigua.   Hatchard, as the Institution’s publisher, is not the author of the report. The author remains unknown and much sought after by the prosecution. While the charge of libel against him concerns damage done to one man and to the institution of the Grand Jury of the Island of Antigua, the actual damage perceived as being done was in general to the plantation owners and British government institutions in the Caribbean, and other English parties at home engaged in lucrative businesses related to the use of slaves in that area.

On February 20, 1817 the case of the King v. John Hatchard for a Libel was conducted in the Court of King’s Bench before Mr. Justice Abbott and a special jury. Garrow made the opening remarks for the defendant, while others had the responsibility for continuing the defense. The statement at the center of this libel was published in the “Tenth Report of the Directors of the African Institution” dated 1816 and is quoted below.

The Directors are also informed that about a year ago the following circumstance took place in the Island of Antigua: – A gentleman who held the situation of Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, Sir James Leith, having severely whipped a Negro woman of his own, who was pregnant; she laid her complaint before the Governor, who humanely attended to her story, and dismissed her with some money for herself, and a note to her owner. Instead however of taking his Excellency’s interference in good part, the Gentleman gave the unfortunate woman an additional number of lashes, and dispatched a note to Sir James Leith, who in consequence ordered his Secretary to inform the writer that Sir James Leith had no further occasion for his services on the receipt of this information. The Gentleman dressed up one of his Negro boys in his own uniform, and mounting him upon an ass, dispatched him with an insolent note to the Governor. He was afterwards (that is the Aide-de-Camp), indicted for cruelty at the express order of the Governor, but the Grand Jury refused to find the bill.

Statements from the prosecution, defense and judge are presented here to give the flavor of the trial. The quotations presented here were taken directly from the 134 page transcript of the spoken words in this proceeding. In those days the legal contests were conducted with a flood of words. Carefully selected bits of this dialog have been selected to represent the flow of events in this case.

Mr. Serjeant Best opened the case for the prosecution with these charges.

……this prosecution has been directed by the Legislature of the Island of Antigua, for the purpose of protecting the characters of a most respectable body of men, namely, the Colonial Aides-de-Camp of the Governor of that Island; for the purpose of protecting what is still more important, the administration of justice in that island; and for the purpose of protecting the lives of all its white inhabitants. Gentlemen, I have no hesitation in saying, that unless an Institution, from whence this libel has proceeded, can be prevented from circulating the exaggerated and unfounded statements of what is supposed to have taken place in the West Indies, there can be no security for those white persons whose fortune it is, to live surrounded as the white inhabitants of the West India islands are, by a black population – a population rendered by what has passed in Europe, most attentive to what relates to their condition, and which inhales disaffection and insubordination with every breath of calumny on their masters….

At this point, being well aware of the respected stature of many members of the African Institution, including one of their most vocal statesmen, William Wilberforce, and others present in the gallery, the prosecutor attempts to narrow the attack.

Gentlemen, do not suppose that I mean to impute any bad intentions to the society from whence this libel has emanated. I know perfectly well that it has amongst its members some of the most respectable, the most honorable, and most valuable men in this country; but, Gentlemen, it is on that account that the libel of which I complain is the more dangerous. A pebble thrown from a great height falls with ruinous force; and Gentlemen, any thing supposed to come from such persons (for , Gentlemen, do not imagine that I impute to the respectable part of this Association the circulation of anything so false and malignant as this report), instantly obtains with every class of society the most implicit credit. It is not with any feelings of resentment, therefore, but in the pure spirit of defense that the Prosecutors come forward.

The possible impact the libelous statements could have on the white residents of the slave economy in the British Caribbean is further described.

Injured, as they have been, they want not indemnity for the past, but security for the future. They fear nothing that can be said of them, if said with truth. They are not desirous of preventing their opponents from bringing forward any argument that their united talents can produce. For the fair use of argument, the freedom of the press, happily established in this country, will protect them. All my clients’ desire is, that when their opponents venture to state facts, they will take care that they are correctly informed upon the facts which they state. Let them recollect that the only protection which the white inhabitants of the West India Islands have, surrounded as they are by inhabitants of a different description, is in the idea that the blacks entertain, that the present state of things will protect their masters against them. If the black population of these Islands are to be told that the white inhabitants have not the protection of this country, that so far from it, a society in which are to be found the highest names, are spreading through the world, papers which show that the white inhabitants of these Islands themselves must be held in detestation in this country, and are ready to be delivered up to the vengeance of those blacks, is it possible that the spirit of insurrection can be kept down? …………….Where the spirit of insurrection is excited amongst the blacks, what means have the African Institution to allay it; what power to protect its victims from its fury. The stoutest hearts will surely tremble at danger, which they can neither stop nor share.

Mr. Serjeant Best, in presenting the opening statement for the prosecution, acknowledges that he is being opposed by William Garrow.

The Defendant has certainly selected an Advocate, my learned friend the Attorney-General, who sits near me, possessing talents, that if it be possible to offer any defence, or any palliation of the guilt of this paper, he, I am sure, will offer it; but it appears to me that will be altogether impossible. It appears to me, that you will have a very easy task when you shall have received the rule of law from his Lordship; that you will have no difficulty in applying it to this case, and that the result will be a verdict of guilty.

One problem faced by the prosecution was that they were charging the publisher of the report, not its author, nor the person inserting the statement into the much larger report. They had to justify making this person, Mr. Hatchard, the defendant in this case. Indeed they had vigorously attempted, but unsuccessfully, to identify the author. Mr. Serjeant Best closed the prosecution’s opening statement with this statement:

Gentlemen, even at this moment, if the African Institution, or Mr. Hatchard the Defendant, whom I consider as identified with them, will give up to us the author of this libel, I will offer to you no evidence, I will suffer a verdict of acquittal to be recorded, if that is done – if it is not done, it is absolutely necessary that I should press for a conviction here, for unless a conviction can be obtained in such a case as this, under the circumstances which it is offered to you, the Legislature, the Grand Jury, the Public functionaries in the Island of Antigua have no protection from the laws of that country from which they went, to that they now inhabit, and to which they have the strongest possible claim to look for protection.

Other important and descriptive points were made. The Aides-de-Camp were local planters who, in addition to running their plantations, served the Governor-General. The Grand Jury was a major instrument in the legal system protecting the rights of both white people and the African slaves. In addition, the opening statement established that the libel statement was pure fiction, nothing like that happened, although the circulation of the statement and other statements like it in England and in the Island of Antigua would have dangerous effect.

Garrow made the opening statement for the defense. The defense team had previously determined that the statement considered libelous was indeed fiction. In addition Garrow was under heavy legal constraints. This was not an opportunity to debate the moral value of the institution of slavery. It was tightly restricted to the libel laws. Therefore Garrow and his team had the job of defending a guilty cause, and reducing the penalty that could be inflicted on Mr. Hatchard. The lengthy openings statement by Garrow tediously explores a possible defense. Only small excerpts are included here.

Gentlemen of the Jury,

I rise to endeavor to perform my duty to Mr. Hatchard, under circumstances which are certainly rather novel, and not remarkably agreeable to the person who has to perform that task. ………… the course he (the prosecutor) has pursued is an extraordinary, and I think rather an alarming one, for he tells you , that he has been sent here by the command of the Legislative Body of the Island of Antigua. …. I venture to say…that the thing is done now for the first time. …. (and) it is the first time, that my mind has had the infliction of being told, that the prosecution against which I have to contend, was instituted by the order of any legislative body……

My learned friend stated, without any qualification, that this prosecution in all its parts is instituted for this purpose and under these orders. What! The eight colonial aides-de-camp of the deceased Sir James Leith are to have the whole weight of the Legislative Body of Antigua to bear down on a London Bookseller….and it is supposed that the Tenth Repot of the African Institution is a libel upon the Grand Jury of the Island of Antigua.

Gentlemen, it is a stalking-horse in order to captivate you and to run away with you, to talk of this being a libel upon the Grand Jury of the Island of Antigua. What is it that is said of the Grand Jury – I pass by the rest of it to return to it presently – to dismiss this which I state to be an attempt to carry away unfairly your sober judgments, and to make you believe you are called upon to……..to protect the pure administration of justice in the most remote part of His Majesty’s dominions. …,

After much discussion on the fact that no individual is named in the libel, and that the Grand Jury had merely failed to respond to a bill, something that often happened throughout the kingdom, Garrow continues:

Now, Gentlemen, let us see a little what belongs more to the case now presented before you. I am one of the last persons who ought to attempt to mislead you upon the law that belongs to this case; but to be sure, before you find Mr. Hachard guilty, you must be persuaded he had an intention to fabricate some story to bring these Gentlemen, or some one of them, ….into disgrace or disrepute. ………………

I say, a wise and prudent man would have paused a good deal before he came into a Court of Justice, if he could avoid it, to urge any of those topics, so inflammable, so dangerous, so capable of misrepresentation and of inflammation, to the extent my learned Friend has put them.

Garrow seeks to make the point that they seemed to be doing damage to their cause by creating much more excitement with the prosecution than done by the paragraph in a report that had limited distribution.

Now, Mr. Hatchard the Bookseller, he wants no introduction in this place; he is one of the most respectable of the Tradesmen in the metropolis; he has been carrying on a business, always attended with peril and danger, in a manner to exempt him (until the Legislative Body of Antigua have ordered him to be prosecuted), not only from prosecution, but from reproach. Look at the shelves of his ware-house, the contents of them are calculated to promote and increase science and useful knowledge; to enlarge the sphere of the moral fitness of mankind; and I will venture to say, that no man who will go out a purchaser from his shop, can make a selection which has not the object of making him a better man than he was before the purchase. This is the man today brought before you, for publishing a Libel on the Grand Jury of the Island of Antigua;(and on) an unnamed and undesignated individual; a not-to-be-found individual………

…I am sure he (the prosecutor Mr. Serg. Best) would tell you he believes, Mr. Hatchad never read the Tenth Report till after the prosecution.   But a Bookseller, who sells a book, must be taken to have read it. I am not attempting to deceive you; but Mr. Hatchard, by my learned Friend, is considered so innocent, that you could not fail to observe, how concerned he was to let him walk away and tell his family; “Oh, it was but a summer’s cloud, there is no interruption to our happiness, nobody believed I was malignant! I was the instrument of doing something that brought me within the form of an indictment , but there is no harm done, and I go free” Upon what terms? Why, says my learned Friend, only give up your author, that is all we want of you.

Garrow then makes the case they could have more logically gone after the African Institution.

……..the African Institution, what will you do about them? ….. Why I think, we might as well have had an Indictment against them. ………… The African Institution consists of persons who I hope will be spared by the providence of God, long to add to the blessings they have for many years been conferring on their country, in various forms and shapes; and if it should please God now to make an end to their useful career, we shall, as to some of them in particular, find their title in the page of history amongst the most illustrious benefactors of mankind. They have been labouring incessantly to break the chains of bondage and to prevent the scenes of horror, desolation, and bloodshed, which tore parents from their children, and children from their parents, and took them to foreign shore, to endure great hardships in the voyage, their lives not being mended after the transatlantic voyage…. ….they (the African Institution) have done it for the benefit of the Black Population, and at the same time for the benefit of the Whites, by whom they are surrounded………………..

My learned Friend says,– A pebble that falls from a height, falls with a weight; according as men by their extraordinary virtues have exalted themselves, condescend to acts of meanness, basement, and treachery, so their fall, like the fall of the fallen angels, is more to be deplored than the fall of ordinary men, who have not raised themselves to that elevation; and what is proposed to those Gentlemen of whom my learned Friend cannot speak without covering them with praise, and mentioning them in the manner in which the whole world esteem them? What is proposed, is this: — You did not fabricate this: we know you are above doing it, Mr. Hatchard; we know that you received it from some correspondent in the West Indies; give us the name of your correspondent, and you shall go free……..

Gentlemen, I regret having taken up so much of your time; but I found it necessary to take some notice of my learned Friend’s address, having taken care to take as little as possible, because I know that this Case ill deserves it, except as it may be made the instrument of mischief; for it will find its way to those places, where every thing that is said is capable of great mischief.

At this point Garrow leaves the courtroom, and the remainder of the defense in the trial is left to the other members of the defense team. A vigorous examination of evidence and points of law continue, until the Judge summarizes the finding and reads his formal charge.


This is an Indictment against John Hatchard, for the publication of a supposed Libel. Gentlemen, by the frame of the Indictment, two distinct characters are given to this Publication; one is , that it has a tendency, and is calculated to defame the several persons who fill the situation of Aide-de-Camp to Sir James Leith, who was the Governor-General of the leeward Islands, at the period alluded to in the publication; the other is, that it has a tendency, and that it is published therefore with the intention of bringing the Criminal Justice of the Island of Antigua into disrepute, by representing that the Criminal Justice there was not duly administered on the behalf of slaves. These two characters, you see, Gentlemen, are perfectly distinct; and I shall by and by request the favour of your opinion on each of them.. The Indictment further charges this to be a Libel….

At this point Justice Abbott charged the jury to make their decision and in doing so he summarizes the evidence given and described the libel laws that apply. He made a lengthy blow by blow recounting of the points made by both the prosecution and defense, and various interpretation of the libel laws. He then closed his charge to the Jury with these words:

I have been invited to give my opinion on the contents of this paper; and it is probably my duty to do so – but you are not to be governed by my opinion, or give any greater weight to it than in the exercise of your own judgment and reason you think belongs to it; for the character of the paper is to be found by your opinion, and not mine. – I am of opinion, that this publication, ambiguously as it is expressed as to the individual, and false as it is in all its pats, has a tendency to bring all the persons who fill the character of Aides-de-camp of Sir James Leith into suspicion and disgrace, and is therefore a Libel in the first view in which I put it. I am also of opinion, that, taking the whole together, the expression at the close –“the Grand Jury refused to find the Bill” – does mean to impute an improper refusal. That is my opinion upon the two questions: but I request you to exercise your judgment, and find a verdict upon the result of that judgment.

The Jury immediately found the Defendant guilty upon the first and last counts.

Choosing the penalty to be inflicted on John Hatchard took place in the Court of King’s Bench, almost three months later, on May 10, 1817. Justice Abbott was again in charge and started the proceeding by reading his report of the evidence on the trial. He then invited others to present their views on the severity of the penalty to be imposed. While Garrow does not take part, the other defense counselors as well as the prosecution counselors spoke at length.   All agreed that John Hatchard would normally be considered innocent. However, the prosecution emphasized that there was a need to go on record that publishing such false information, because of the damage it would cause, must not be allowed to go unpunished. The prosecution counselors make this point clearly and forcibly.

Mr. Serjeant Best states…

I feel as much as any man can, for the situation of Mr. Hatchad, — your Lordships must punish M. Hatchad, as you would punish those members of the African Institution who are the real offenders, if they were before you; for if that is not done, but a precedent is set for this Society, and all other Societies, to receive information, true or false, from all quarters of the world, and under the sanction of their name to get Printers to circulate it, and after they have done the greatest mischief to individuals, and to the State, to say — Oh! you must not punish the Printer, this is an exception to the rule, for the Printer has acted under high authority; — such a principle would be attended with consequences most injurious to society. My learned Friend has put the case most strongly, as he always does – Suppose a Libel came from the Attorney-General – I say, if a Libel came from the Attorney-General, we should in that case, as in this, request the Printer to give up the author; and if he gave up the Attorney General, we should have done with him. I am not desirous to punish this Gentleman – I am more merciful than these Gentlemen – theirs is the pretence of mercy, with real cruelty permitting him to stand in the situation he does — mine is real mercy. I say, come forward and avow yourselves the criminals, as in character you ought to do; but if you do not, though desirous this “Gentleman should not suffer, it is the only way in which I can punish you, by making you feel, when you retire at night, that there is a person suffering for that into which you have led him.

Mr. Curwood, one of the counsels for the prosecution, added his voice to the prosecution’s case.

…….the result of libels like this,….tend to shake the safety of our West-India Colonies to their very foundations; and it therefore becomes most important, my Lords, by every manner of means, to stop the circulation of such publications as your Lordship has heard read today.

My Lord, it is with great regret, and very painfully to my own feelings, that I stand up to ask your Lordship for a judgment against a Gentleman whose character stands so unquestionable high as the Gentleman who now stands upon your Lordship’s floor for judgment. But your Lordship knows it is a law of stern political necessity –that where the Author of a libel of this kind cannot be found, the Publisher must answer for it; and if Mr. Hatchard is to be made a victim, according to the phrase used by his learned Council today, let it be recollected, he is not made the victim of the Prosecutors, but the victim of those persons in whom he has reposed confidence, and who have deserted him in the hour of necessity; but who in a single moment can relieve him, by giving up the Author of this Libel. That is all we ask; and we pray for no vindictive judgment against Mr. Hatchard, if that can be done…………

Mr. Justice Bayley, who along with Mr. Justice Abbott had served a judge in this case, read the Judgment.

John Hatchard,– You are to receive the Judgment of the Court for the Libel which has been sold by you. ………

It is certainly a Libel of no mean or inconsiderable character; and it is the greater, because it imports to come from a body of persons of very high respectability, who would not be likely to send out into the world, that which they had collected from information, unless they had canvassed that information; and unless they had had strong grounds to believe, that information was true;……………..

Taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration – taking the character which has been given you into consideration — And taking into consideration that you are a sacrifice to other persons,– that this has not originated with you, and that you are not able to give up the real author; this Court doth order and adjudge, that for this your offence, you do pay to The King a fine of £100, and that you be imprisoned in the custody of the Marshal of the Mashalsea, until that fine is paid.

The defendant immediately paid the fine, and was discharged.

Some final observations on the role of Garrow in this case – first, Garrow lost, and Hatchard was declared guilty by both jury and judge. However, Garrow often took on the defense of guilty persons, individuals that could be very harshly treated within English criminal law. Sometimes it was useful to reduce the harshness of the potential sentence, the situation in this case. So if this was Garrow’s last case as a barrister in defense of a client, this is a good way for him to close out this phase of his long legal career.

Also it is fitting in other ways. From the earliest days of his career, Garrow was outspoken in his dislike of the institution of slavery in English colonies. In “Memoir of Sir William Garrow” in The Times, November 7, 1840, published at his death, the article recalls “…at an early period of his life, when the question concerning the manner in which Negroes were obtained, and conveyed from Africa to the West Indies, was in agitation, he had formed a most decided judgment on the facts and on the traffic. One day Mr. Fuller (Jack Fuller, of Rose-Hill, as he called himself), a great West India plantation owner, meeting him in the street, said, “Well, Mr. Garrow, here is plenty of business, and plenty of money for you; the committee have determined to retain you, and give you the management of all their business in Parliament and elsewhere.” He answered, “Sir, if your committee would give me their whole incomes, and all their estates, I would not be seen as the advocate of practices which I abhor, and a system which I detest.”   Early in his career as a State Prosecutor, he prosecuted General Picton for the torture of Luisa Calderon , a young black girl, when he served as Governor of Trinidad – a trial in which Garrow received international attention.

And it should be specifically noted that the very day before he opened the defense’s case against Mr. Hatchard, and in his role as Attorney General, Garrow prosecuted John Bean Hannay, a ship captain, and won the first case against transporting slave implementing the Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807 which Wilberforce had worked so hard to get enacted. William Wilberforce had cause to be elated with Garrow’s response to his cause.

Images Credit

Images of the letter kindly provided by: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford (Shelfmark: MS. Wilberforce d. 17, fol. 266).

See the letter reproduced in full on this page


A Report of the Trial of the King v. John Hatchard for a Libel, a transcript of the trial taken in short hand by Mr. Gurney, London, 1817.

Photographic copy of the original letter from William Garrow to William Wilberforce dated 24 Jan 1817 from the Wilberforce correspondence collection in the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

( d. 17, fol. 266)

Sir William Garrow, His Life, Times and Fight for Justice by John Hostettler and Richard Braby. Waterside Press, 2010

One Reply to “Wilberforce Requests, Garrow Responds”

  1. The trial of John Bellighem
    I dont know if anyone knew, but William Garrow, was part of the Crown Prosecution team at the trial of John Bellinghem, who assassinated Spencer Percival, on May 11th 1812, in the lobby of the house of Commons. Spencer Percival was the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated, and Bellinghem hanged. Years after it was questioned as to whether he recieved justice. I think, had Garrow been defending, John Bellingham may have been aquitted, or proven mad. Having said this, in the book Sir William Garrow, his life times and fight for justice, this is not mentioned, so it may not be known about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: